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Taking the plunge

Getting involved in policy-making could make a difference to practice, says Gwyn Owen, CSP professional adviser for CPD

I  have often heard CSP members say that politics and policy-making are nothing to do with physiotherapy practice.

But if we choose to ignore the policy process, we give up the chance to influence decisions about changes affecting our physiotherapy practice and professional working lives.

I remember being advised by my father (who was not a physio) to join the CSP’s campaign against government plans for the NHS during the 1990s. He perceived that taking action was unprofessional and would compromise my future career.

I argued that it was my professional duty to get involved – on behalf of my patients and my future physiotherapy practice. Although the campaign didn’t stop cuts being made to the NHS budget, it did change the government’s plan for design and delivery of NHS services.

Rather than compromising my career, the campaign supported my continuing professional development (CPD) and helped me develop political awareness. I learnt how policy is made, how it can be influenced, and how the CSP provides opportunities for its members to get involved in shaping policy – locally and nationally.     

Getting involved in policy making

Taking part in a campaign, such as the pensions campaign last year or the TUC March for Austerity on 20 October, is just one way of getting involved in policy making.

This article looks at the potential benefits of becoming actively engaged in the policy process, from a personal and professional development perspective.

‘Policy’ is a term used to describe a set of ideas, proposals or statements that express what people should do, what they can expect, or how something is structured and organised.

In practice, policies form part of our decision making – as healthcare practitioners, as employers or employees, and as service users, for example. 

The CSP’s role in shaping policy

The CSP as an organisation is actively engaged in policy processes that affect physiotherapy practice. Success in influencing policy depends on being able to create compelling arguments supported by good quality evidence, and then communicating those arguments to the right people at the right time and place.

This needs CSP members and officers to work together – as the recent example of physiotherapists gaining independent prescribing rights shows (Frontline, 1 August, page 16).

There are plenty of opportunities to influence policy decisions that affect our physiotherapy practice. As CSP members we can shape policy through the country boards and regional networks, CSP committees and working groups, the CSP’s Annual Representative Conference or the web-based discussion group, iCSP, for example.   

Outside the CSP, we can influence policies affecting our working lives by signing petitions, campaigning or networking with decision-makers.

We can get involved in developing policy by taking part in ‘listening exercises’, focus groups, or by sitting on a policy development working group or an expert panel.

Consultations are part of the formal policy-making process, and provide a structured opportunity to challenge policy – making sure that we submit robust evidence to support our argument.

Understanding how the process works will help you think critically about how you might try to influence policy decisions. The policy process follows a cycle – see right.

You will recognise the cycle from your physiotherapy practice. The policy cycle follows the same steps as the problem-solving approach we use with a client to create and evaluate a programme of physiotherapy. 

Policy cycle in practice

Some decisions affecting our working lives seem to happen quite quickly, while others, like the government’s decision to take action to reduce smoking within the population, take years to come to life.  

The causal link between lung cancer and tobacco smoking was established during the 1950s.

Despite the growing body of research published during 1960 and 1970s that showed the risks of smoking and the benefits of stopping, the issue did not get on to the policy agenda.

Strong lobbying from the tobacco companies and the need to maintain income through taxation meant that taking action on smoking was not a priority.

The issue finally came on to the policy agenda with a change of government in 1997.

The new government’s public health agenda aimed to reduce death rates and increase the number of years spent in good health.

Ministers could see from the research evidence that their targets for public health could be met by reducing the number of people who smoked. The government started to develop policy.

It collected evidence – from academics, healthcare professionals, members of the public, public health experts, and the tobacco industry about options for action.

The CSP was on the organisations which responded to the government’s consultation – taking the opportunity to support the new public health agenda, and to promote physiotherapy’s role in supporting smoking cessation.

The consultation process led to the development of a raft of new policies published from early 2000 onwards. These included changes to the law (banning smoking from public places and changes to advertising), development of public health campaigns and the introduction of smoking cessation services.

The policy implementation and evaluation phases of the cycle can sometimes be overlooked.

This is where having a robust evidence-base of how things were before the policy was introduced and having a set of clear objectives linked to what the policy aims to achieve is so important.

Without this information, it becomes almost impossible to evaluate the impact of policy on practice in a critical way.  

What will getting involved mean?

  • If you’re thinking about getting involved in policy-related activities – locally or nationally, these prompts will help you think critically about your contribution:
  • Who has asked me to get involved? Do they have any specific expectations of my contribution?
  • Who am I representing? (my team or department, my profession or the service?)  
  • Does my involvement in the process have implications for my employment?
  • Will my involvement compromise my ability to meet professional and regulatory expectations?
  • How will I ensure that my involvement in the policy process is well-informed?
  • Do I have evidence to support my argument? (such as literature, empirical data and anonymised case studies)
  • Do I need to consult with or seek advice from others (such as the CSP, workplace representatives and policy networks)
  • If I am representing others, how will I maintain their engagement through all stages of the policy process? fl

Ways to get involved in the csp policy process

  • Join CSP English regional networks and country boards provide opportunities to become involved in local policy networks and influence national CSP policy

Ways to get involved in the wider policy process

  • National clinical standards and guidance development
  • National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE)
  • Draft versions of national clinical standards and guidance are open for comment on NICE and SIGN websites. Visit the ‘consultation’ sections of these websites for more information.
  • Join the TUC March for Austerity on 20 October – see: for further information

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Article Information


Gwyn Owen

Issue date

19 September 2012

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